Monday, August 31, 2009

STATS 101: Holes to Fill...Hey! Free Pizza!

Well, classes have started back at SFA and that gives me a chance to take you through a little feature we'll call 'Stats 101' here at the blog. Woah. wait.. stop running away.. hey...FREE PIZZA!!!. There, I got you back. Read on and you might win a free pizza.

All we're gonna do here is look at some percentages. Due to college volleyball having short rosters, the number of players leaving and the resulting number of newcomers can often have a significant impact on clubs from year to year.

There are four basic statistics that are tallied in every match. Now, don't get me wrong, there are more items than this that are kept track of, but kills, assists, blocks and digs are four terms that any volleyball fan is familiar with. Let's take a look at the Southland Conference in terms of the percentage of 2008 stats they return in 2009. The basics here are that the lower these percentages are, the more a particular team has to look elsewhere for contributions in 2009. We'll start with kills:

Percentage of 2008 kills returning for 2009:
1. Northwestern St. 89%
2. Southeastern La. 88%
3. UTSA 82%
4. UTA 81%
5. Central Arkansas 72%
6. Nicholls 68%
7. McNeese 61%
8. SFA 58%
9. Texas State 56%
10. Lamar 53%
11. Sam Houston 52%
12. TAMUCC 24%

As you'll see throughout what follows, Northwestern State and Southeastern Louisiana basically return the same team they had in 2008. Those two schools lost basically nothing in transitioning from '08 to '09. Notice that we are near the lower end of this scale which accents what Ben and I have been blogging in our respective domains: We will need some outside hitters to step up in '09. On to assists:

Percentage of 2008 assists returning for 2009:
1. Southeastern La. 100%
T2. Northwestern St. 99%
T2. McNeese 99%
4. UTA 98%
5. Nicholls 97%
T6. Central Arkansas 93%
T6. Texas State 93%
8. UTSA 88%
9. Sam Houston 80%
10. Lamar 27%
11. SFA 19%
12. TAMUCC 16%

OK. This is easy to understand. Either a team returns its primary setter or not. The clear division in the numbers is explained by just a few simple facts. Every one except us and Corpus returns their primary setter from 2008. What about Lamar, you ask? Well, their setter Adrianne Meengs got mono last year and had to be replaced. That's why their percentage is so low. It turns out that the numbers above contribute little to my overall point, which you'll see shortly, but consider this: The setter position will be really interesting to look at THIS TIME NEXT YEAR. Seven of the conferences 12 schools have a senior setter as the single primary quarterback. So, there will be a lot of inexperienced setters in the conference starting in 2010.

Percentage of 2008 blocks returning for 2009:
1. Northwestern State 92%
2. UTA 86%
3. Southeastern La. 85%
T4. McNeese 69%
T4. UTSA 69%
T6. SFA 68%
T6. Nicholls 68%
8. Central Arkansas 57%
9. Texas State 49%
10. Lamar 47%
11. Sam Houston 42%
12. TAMUCC 26%

One thing that is emerging is that Lamar lost a significant fraction of their 2008 contribution. I'll admit I hadn't quite realized that until doing this little exercise. Secondly, you've noticed that TAMUCC lost basically everything. That includes their coach as they are the only team in the conference to have a new person at the helm. We move on to digs...

Percentage of 2008 digs returning for 2009:
1. Southeastern La. 99%
2. Northwestern St. 93%
3. McNeese 89%
4. UTA 86%
5. Texas State 78%
6. UTSA 77%
7. Sam Houston 76%
8. Nicholls 75%
9. Central Arkansas 68%
10. SFA 61%
11. TAMUCC 55%
12. Lamar 48%

We came out lower on this list than I would have guessed. That serves as a reminder of how well rounded a player Lauren Railey was. She tallied over 300 digs which was near what a few of the liberos in the conference posted last year. Again, look at Lamar.

Now, can we summarize all this to see what the main points are of all this? Sure, a simple way to do it is to average (or total) the ranks across the four categories. Averaging the percentages themselves may not be the best idea given the split in the setting numbers that we saw above. I'll jump ahead and say that setting really doesn't make much of a difference in the final tally. If setting is removed all together only McNeese and UTSA flip-flop in this final list - all else stays the same.

Final List: Rank of Teams Based on What Percentage of 2008 they return for 2009:
1. Northwestern State [Returns the Most From '08]
2. Southeastern La.
3. UTA
5. McNeese

6. Nicholls
7. Central Arkansas
8. Texas State
9. SFA
10. Sam Houston
11. Lamar
12. TAMUCC [Returns the Least from '08]

Please, understand. This isn't a ranking of a teams' prowess for 2009. Its only a list of what they return from last year. What they return might be great, or it might be paltry.

So, what do we learn? First, notice that a good many of the preseason picks to finish in the top half of the conference are in the bottom half of this list. This may be more evidence for what we've been hearing and blogged about previously: "The conference is wide open". What do I mean? Well, UCA, Texas State, Lamar, Sam and SFA are all "top half" picks, but they have the biggest holes to fill. The middle of the conference from last year returns a core of their players. They are in the position of letting veterans emerge rather than having to count on freshmen and transfers to fill holes. Will that cause the gap between the top and bottom of 2008 to collapse inward in 2009? Maybe. But, I'll vote no on that. However, this is one more way to see the potential parity in the conference.

See, Southeastern La. , Northwestern State and UTA only won only 12 conference games between them. They are returning a lot, but its mediocre at best. Their veterans basically all returning does what? Get them to .500 in conference at best? Even if they make that four or five conference game improvement, it just puts them in the hunt for a tourney spot. That's not enough to leap into the top tier.

Who comes out looking better in this analysis to me is UTSA. They were 11-5 in the tough side of the conference last year and they return a decent amount from their 2008 squad - especially offensively. Remember, the coaches picked Lamar and UTSA nearly dead even in the West and I have to wonder if the one SID that picked them to win the conference was aware of some of what is presented here.

Who comes out looking worse is clearly Lamar. They've got a good fraction of their 2008 production gone. Despite getting Meengs healthy, it is fair to say based on the numbers above that half of their overall production from 2008 is gone.

What this says to me is this: I am inclined at this point to align my thoughts on the conference more along the lines of the coaches poll than the SIDs. The coaches see Lamar and UTSA as pretty much equal and this analysis has convinced me of that position. Before this exercise, I was more inclined to think of Lamar as the stronger squad. Now, I'm not so sure.

Think for a second. Texas State is a consensus top pick. But then what? Central Arkansas isn't eligible for the tournament. If, and I accent IF, Texas State comes out on top, then the #2 seed could be a major toss up. Now, I'm not writing the Bobcats in as #1 and all that. I'm just saying that if Texas State does win the regular season crown then there could be a real dogfight for the second position in the conference tournament. How SFA, Lamar, and UTSA do against each other could really mean a lot. The fact that we are in the West helps us here. Remember, UTSA will play on their home floor in the conference tournament. That's an interesting twist in all this too. Finally, we shouldn't forget about Sam Houston and McNeese. They could throw a wrench into things as well.

Now, about that pizza. Ok, it's this simple. If you want a free pizza do this:

1. Go join our Facebook group. The link is on the sidebar. [If already a member, go to Step 2]
2. Then, send me an e-mail at with subject line "pizza".
3. Get a friend to do the above two things as well.
4. You and your friend have to come to Wednesday's game. If you don't come to the pizza.

I am the tall guy who sits near the visitors bench. Study my dashing photo and come find me. But most importantly...get loud in the Coliseum on Wednesday at 7:00. Create a huge home court advantage for our girls! See you there!